Best Laid Plans
We’d made the plan months ago, my sister and I.
She brought it up first. A quick reference to the father’s day phone call a year ago, when we both realized we’d spent the day teary, feeling alone, missing our dad.
“We should be together,” she exclaimed like a character who finally discovers the killer in a made for TV mystery.
I agreed. We were idiots.
Okay, not idiots, but we should have known better.
Families are their own cultures. They have ways of doing things — celebrating, fighting, mourning…traditions passed down from generations before.
My family of origin is Irish on both sides as far back as the eye, and Acesterory.com can see. Irish of the Irish wake and the Irish goodbye. Even if our particular crew isn’t the drinking, swaying and singing, back-slapping kind (we aren’t), we’d certainly been taught strong feelings require immediate silencing and isolation.
I’ve been in therapy for decades, long enough to have been cued to the notion that a father’s day without my recently deceased father might bring up feelings. In fact, my dad’s birthday, father’s day and death anniversary are within days of each other. A holy trinity of hurt. It would be insincere to say I hadn’t thought of him. In a nod to the old country, I’d deliberately shoved feelings into any hidden corner they’d fit.
But I woke that father’s day in actual pain. My back, the bellwether of my mental health and unprocessed grief, had twinged in the middle of the night. Though I didn’t actively choose it, I was in bed with my loss leaking out everywhere.
Eventually, I cried enough for my lower back to unlock and made it downstairs to where my husband and kids hugged me the way you might hold a precious, porcelain bowl. They took their cues from me, but my moves were slightly behind the emotional beat.
I called my mother first.
She just couldn’t and she said as much. As the origin story of our family’s emotional lockdown, my mother didn’t have the capacity or language to swim in the emotional deep end. I respected that, and gratefully, no longer resented it. Our conversation about the absence of my dad, her husband of fifty years consisted of a crack in her voice and my single tear.
And a few hours later my sister called, and we cried heavy together and promised to do better in the coming year.
Which is how we knew to plan to be together this mother’s day — the first after the unexpected death of our mom. Plane tickets and plans meant I’d bring my daughter to my sister’s home in Seattle, where together with her daughters we would honor our love of the woman we are still learning to accept as lost.
God, she was so much to lose.
But, you know, best laid plans..
I called my sister last night. We danced around it for a minute or two, then we both cried.
There is loss inside loss inside loss.
We won’t be together, drinking coffee in the early morning light looking out at Puget sound, laughing in the love our mother taught us to foster.
We’d tried to lessen a blow that appropriately refuses to be tamed.
And it was always going to be this way.
Out first motherless mother’s day.
Physical togetherness isn’t in the budget these days, but we are together nonetheless. I honor my particular women: Caitlin, Anjali, Diana, Kathy, Lynn, Susan B, Cristin C, Maria L, Katie and your particular women.
And if you’d like to send me the names of those you have lost, or lucky enough to be loving still in real time, please do. I light candles in the mornings when I’m waiting to greet the sun and they are covered in the names of our loved ones.
I will send you love. In fact, I already am.
Meghan Riordan Jarvis is a psychotherapist, author, wife, and mother of three. After losing both her parents within two years of each other she began Grief Is My Side Hustle. (www.griefismysidehustle.com).
(photo credit Bianca Gonçalves)